Thursday, May 13, 2004

JUST GOT THE GOOD NEWS that my paper, "Ritual in the Old Testament Apocrypha," has been accepted for the Anthropology and the Old Testament Research Seminar in Glasgow this August. I'll paste in the abstract below. As usual, I plan to put the oral version online just before the conference.

Recent decades have seen the emergence of "ritual studies" as a field in its own right, one pursued with increasing methodological sophistication and applied not only in the social sciences but also in the humanities. This paper is one segment of a larger project to explore the place of ritual in ancient Jewish literature that was transmitted by Christians but dropped by Jews. The larger corpus includes the works of Philo and Josephus; the Jewish Pseudepigrapha (covered in a symposium paper last year); and the Old Testament Apocrypha. The purpose of this paper is to apply methods and insights from ritual studies to further our understanding of the last group, the Old Testament Apocrypha.

The Old Testament Apocrypha consist of a collection of Hellenistic works, including books on scriptural or Jewish themes (1 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sira, Baruch, the Epistle of Jeremiah, 1-2 Maccabees) and a number of supplements to books of the Hebrew Bible (Additions to Esther, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Hebrew Youths, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh). They are generally agreed to be Jewish works, most of them supposedly composed in a Semitic language (Hebrew or Aramaic). Much of Ben Sira survives in Hebrew and some of Tobit in Aramaic, but the Apocrypha are preserved in their entirety only in other languages such as Greek, Syriac, and Latin. In at least two cases (Wisdom of Solomon and 2 Maccabees), and probably in others (e.g., Baruch), they were composed in Greek. Although the Apocrypha were rejected as scripture by Jerome and some other early church fathers, they were eventually transmitted as part of the Latin Vulgate, as well as part of the Greek Bible, and most of them became canonical in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. They thus form an ancient collection of allegedly Jewish works which Christians knew Jews to have rejected, but which nevertheless held scriptural authority for many early Christians and which eventually became authoritative in much of Christendom until the Protestant Reformation, when the Reformers removed them from their biblical canon.

Catherine Bell, in her book Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), proposes a sixfold typology of ritual, including rites of passage, calendrical rites, rites of exchange and communion, rites of affliction, rites of feasting and fasting, and political rites. In this paper I intend to catalogue and analyze in a very preliminary way the rituals mentioned or described in the Old Testament Apocrypha, using Bell's typology as a basis (although nuancing it as necessary by other typologies and mappings such as those of Ronald Grimes). Although I will analyze all the works in the Apocrypha, I will concentrate especially on those of substantial length, which can be shown on the basis of positive evidence to have originated in Jewish circles. The preliminary cataloguing will give us clearer information about the rituals and types of rituals important in the Judaism of the centuries immediately before and after the turn of the era, and this is the primary objective of the paper. Another objective is to search for trends in the ritual repertoire of the Jewish Apocrypha which may give us insight into why Christians chose these texts and not others to preserve.

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